(UM Legislative News Service) Changes to the $80 million infrastructure bonding bill that’s moving through the Montana Legislature allow more projects to be funded with borrowed money.

One amendment to House Bill 652, which sets a list of public works projects to be funded with general bonds, moves $9 million to a special tax fund for MSU’s Romney Hall renovation.

“(Romney Hall) would see more than a million student visits per year, making it one of the most heavily used buildings in the entire university system,” said Tracy Ellig with the Montana University System.

Ellig said Romney Hall, which will cost a total of $32 million to renovate, has been a priority ask since 2010. But projects like Romney have provoked legislators in past sessions to vote against a comprehensive bonding bill.

Darryl James with the Montana Infrastructure Coalition supports the amended bill’s additional $7.5 million for local and school infrastructure projects, but said the state needs to figure out a way to manage a $2 billion infrastructure deficit. He said there’s too much need to wait for these projects to be funded with bonds.

“Hopefully, as we continue down this path, we’ll be able to find those tools. And we won’t be here asking for state bonding debt to fund local critical infrastructure,” James said.

The House also added $750,000 to maintain and renovate historic properties in Virginia City and Nevada City, like the Nevada City Living History Museum.

The remaining $750,000 would be used to repair roofs at Dawson County Regional Prison.  

The bill passed out of the House with a vote of 68 to 30 last week. The Senate Finance and Claims Committee heard testimony on the bill Tuesday.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.